The US general election of 6 November 2012 has come and gone, with President Barack Obama re-elected to a second four-year term, the Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives, and Democrats that of the Senate. Consequently, the gridlock that the US Congress experienced during the two years preceding the elections promises to continue.
Big business backs both parties
This election, involving an expenditure of $6bn, of which $2.6bn was accounted for by the presidential contest alone, was the most expensive ever in the history of the US – or any other country for that matter. Four-fifths of these vast sums came from US business, indicating the corrupting power of big business and its ability to manipulate the electoral process which goes by the name of ‘US democracy’. Finance, insurance and construction contributed to the campaign funds of the two parties the enormous sum of $350m, of which $150m was provided by Wall Street alone.
In addition to direct campaign contributions, the two parties – appositely referred to as the Republicrats in view of the fact that the contents of their policies on domestic and foreign questions are indistinguishable from each other, and that both of them govern in the interests of US imperialism – received hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of free advertising during their pre-election conventions and the much-hyped, if vacuous, presidential debates, all provided by the giant monopoly capitalist media outlets. The saturation coverage of these events was only matched by the lack of thought content and any meaningful policy proposal on the part of the presidential candidates, as well as scores of delegates at the respective conventions, all of whom seemed to take perverse delight in making the most vacuous and senseless speeches, which nevertheless managed to send their equally empty-headed audiences into fits of frenzy.
No policy differences
As to policy differences between the two parties, and between the presidential candidates, one could not put a cigarette paper between them. There was agreement on both sides, before as well as during the election, that the most important issue facing the US ruling class in the area of economic policy was to cut the budget deficit. Both were agreed that this should be achieved through the imposition of a draconian austerity programme on the overwhelming majority of the American people, so as to save the skin of US monopoly capitalism, while preserving its position of dominance in the overall system of imperialism – against rival imperialist powers, as well as rising non-imperialist countries, such as the People’s Republic of China, whose growing economic, military and diplomatic prowess represents a mortal danger to US hegemony. Such an austerity programme could only be implemented through a combination of tax rises, spending cuts, and intensified exploitation of the working class.
Already, in the aftermath of the mid-term 2010 Congressional election, which handed the majority in the House of Representatives to the Republicans, Obama galvanised the lame-duck Democratic-controlled Congress to put into effect the Republican campaign platform of retaining the Bush tax cuts for the rich – and this in complete violation of Obama’s campaign promise and the programme of the Democratic Party in literally every Congress race, as well as in clear disregard of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the US electorate and population at large. This same deal also rewarded the rich with a much less onerous inheritance tax – exempting all but the 50 richest families in the US from paying any inheritance tax at all. As a sop to the poor, and to make the rest of the deal palatable, it also provided for a reduction of social security contributions for the next year “for everyone”.
Even before these 2010 mid-term elections, when the Democrats controlled the presidency as well as both houses of the Congress, Obama, by an Executive Order, had appointed an 18-strong bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Headed by Alan Simpson (a former Republican Senate leader) and Erskin Bowles (a Democrat and a board member of Morgan Stanley, whose wife graces the board of JP Morgan Chase), split equally between Democrats and Republicans, the Commission was loaded with representatives of monopoly capital, the main items on whose agenda comprised benefit cuts to the poor and middle America and privatising and robbing social security, Medicare and Medicaid.
In the summer of 2011, Obama and John Boemer, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, agreed a trillion dollar deal to raise taxes and cut benefits, but the Tea Party supporters scuppered the deal. The Tea Party antics so angered Paul Krugman, a supporter of Obama, that he expressed his ‘exasperation’ in the following terms in the New York Times: “ President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions … The president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers – in fact, if anything, they are a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers ” (‘Getting to crazy’, 14 July, 2011).
The Tea Party is the product of the deepest economic crisis ever to afflict US imperialism. It arose out of the frustration and deep anger, particularly of several millions of middle class people, at the speedy and gigantic transfer of wealth by the political leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties from their hands into those of Wall Street and the giant corporations through hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to bail out the very scoundrels who played their part in exacerbating the crisis of overproduction. But sadly the rage of the petty bourgeoisie was cleverly manipulated by the billionaires and their reactionary ideologues and turned into an elemental force demanding further drastic onslaughts on the working class – the poor, the destitute, the homeless or those threatened with homelessness. All the same, the Tea Party folk have proved to be rather awkward and less inclined to be overly obedient to the interests of Wall Street than the traditional Republicans and Democrats. In the summer of 2011, they frustrated Congressional action on the raising of the US government debt ceiling for long enough to cause a downgrading of the US credit rating for the first time in history – a real, if small, blow to US imperialism.
After the 2008 election, the incoming Obama administration followed in the footsteps of the outgoing Bush administration by doling out hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the criminal Wall Street fraternity, while stubbornly refusing to bail out millions of ordinary people who have lost their homes and jobs and whose lives have been utterly ruined. The bail-out of the banks was followed by the rescue of the car industry.
As for the poor and middle class people in the US, the Obama administration’s record is bleak indeed. During Obama’s first term, real median household income declined every year, down to the level of 1999; the number of people living in poverty climbed from 39.9m at the time he assumed the presidency to 46.2m. During the same period, profits grew by 63%, and the stock market registered a rise of 73%, while receipts from abroad increased by 39%. His economic team included such enthusiastic supporters of bank deregulation as Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner.
On the civil liberties front, the following observation by a committed Republican, Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of Treasury during Reagan’s first term and an Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal, in a September 2010 article, exposes eloquently the myth surrounding the allegedly liberal Mr Obama, and reveals the really close collaboration between the two parties of US finance capital as they drive US society in the direction of fascism: “ The Bush/Cheney/Obama National Security State has eviscerated the Constitution and civil liberty. Nothing remains. The fascist Republican Federalist Society has put enough federal judges in the judiciary to rule that the president is above the law. The president doesn’t have to obey the law against spying on American citizens without warrants. The president doesn’t have to obey U.S. and international laws against torture. The president doesn’t have to obey the Constitution that mandates that only Congress can declare war. The president can do whatever he wants as long as he justifies it as ‘national security.’ The president’s part of the government, the unaccountable executive branch, is supreme.” (‘The true cost of war’, vdare.com, 2 September 2010).
Roberts continues , “This is the legacy of the Bush/Cheney regime, and this criminal regime continues under Obama. America’s ‘war on terror,’ a fabrication, has resurrected the unaccountable dungeon of the Middle Ages … This is the true cost of ‘liberating’ Iraq, that is, of turning Iraq into an American puppet state that sells out its people for America’s interests.”
Whereas Bush refrained from launching a frontal legislative attack on habeas corpus, merely asserting that preventative detention was inherent to presidential powers during times of war, it was left to the disgraceful Mr Obama to effect legislation to be passed nullifying the domestic rule of law, without arousing serious Democratic opposition. Obama had promised to close down Guantánamo, but it is still open for its grisly business of torture.
Neither prior to, nor during, the election campaign did the Republican Party murmur a single word in opposition to, or in support of, the Obama administration’s policy on questions of civil liberties or internal repression. Obama’s administration deported twice the number of undocumented immigrants in less than 4 years than did Bush during his 8 years in office.
As to foreign policy, both the parties support Israel to the hilt, with Obama and Romney vying with each other to be more Zionist than the Israeli Zionists. Obama has provided substantial military help to Israel, vetoed UN Security Council resolutions censuring Israel for its settlement policy and frustrated every attempt to secure UN recognition of Palestine as a member state of the UN.
It is a measure of the ‘democratic’ credentials of US imperialism that its two strongest allies in the Middle East are: first, the apartheid and brutal state of Israel, which exists through the continued expropriation of, and waging permanent war of extermination against, the Palestinian people, and, second, the brutal Saudi-led medieval autocracies. If Bush waged predatory wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama has transferred the bulk of US troops from Iraq (while leaving behind several tens of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries) to Afghanistan and extended the war to the Pakistani areas bordering Afghanistan, using drone warfare to kill thousands of innocent civilians. As compared to Bush’s 52 drone strikes, Obama has launched 300.
The ‘liberal’ Mr Obama has been as relentless in unleashing violence against the oppressed peoples as was the Bush administration. His government has used massive armed force to secure the brutal overthrow and murder of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. It is busy at the moment organising and financing, through its Gulf stooges, a similar outcome in Syria, with its sights firmly fixed on Iran as the next target for attack. With the shift of its pivot to Asia, the Obama administration is doing its best to encircle China, while at the same time secretly negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Deal with its allies and stooges, which all but excludes China from joining it.
Thus, when it came to choosing between Obama and Romney, the US electorate could opt either for a dull and openly reactionary Romney or a charismatic and intelligent reactionary with an undeserved reputation for being liberal. It was a choice between two protégés of Wall Street – equally committed to protecting the interests of US imperialism at the expense of the working class at home and the oppressed peoples abroad.
The US elections bring to mind the never-to-be forgotten observation of V I Lenin, made in his brilliant work, State and Revolution: “Imperialism – the era of bank capital, the era of gigantic capitalist monopolies, the era of the development of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism – has demonstrated with particular force an extraordinary strengthening of the ‘state machine’ and an unprecedented growth of its bureaucratic and military apparatus, in connection with the intensification of repressive measures against the proletariat both in the monarchical and in the freest, republican countries…. The forms of bourgeois states are extremely varied, but their essence is the same; all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”
No change of government, no change of personnel, has the least effect on the essence of this dictatorship of the monopoly capitalist class. Democrats and Republicans succeed each other in the White House and in the Congress – all serving the interests of monopoly capitalism, whose rule remains unchanged under the surface of this endless changing of the guard. Whichever party comes to office, Wall Street always wins and the American people are always on the losing side – until such time, that is, as they overthrow this gang of bloodsuckers and their political representatives in a proletarian revolution.
Republican strategy unravels
In the end, in spite of strong opposition to his re-election on the part of a significant section of the ruling class and older white voters, Obama won, largely because the Republican ‘Southern Strategy’ has come apart. This strategy was the product of the mid-1960s. Consequent upon the civil rights legislation and desegregation, white voters in the south deserted the Democratic Party. Prior to that, the Republican Party attracted miniscule white support in the south, but 90% of the black electorate backed the Republican Party as the party of Lincoln, who had been instrumental in the abolition of slavery. From the mid-1960s onwards, the scales were reversed, with black voters backing the Democrats, while the Republicans, appealing to underlying race prejudice, secured a strong electoral base among disenchanted white voters in the south.
It is this strategy which lies in ruins, owing to the demographic shift in the US. By 2010, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites had declined to 64% of the population. The Democrats managed to sew together a coalition of black and Latino people, women, youth and a section of the whites. In contrast, the Republicans came to rely overwhelmingly on white voters – who made up nearly 90% of their support. Even though only just over half of Obama’s support came from white voters, he was able to clinch the presidency with the help of other sections of the electorate. Romney depended on men, older Americans, whites (especially white evangelicals and Catholics) all of which fell short of delivering him the presidency. Population projections indicate that the share of Latinos in the US population will climb from 17% at present to 29% by 2050, while that of Asians will climb from 5% to 9% over the same period. At the same time, the share of the whites will come down to less than 50% by 2050. Obama’s campaign drew larger support precisely from those sections of the population whose numbers are set to grow in the coming decades.
The chasm dividing the two constituencies saw to it that the presidential campaign became a nasty affair, with resort to invective and barely-disguised racist exchanges and attempts by Republican-controlled states to restrict voting by poor and black people with obstacles being put in the way of voter registration.
By their opposition to abortion, misogynistic remarks concerning rape and characterising an advocate of easier access to contraception as a ‘slut’, the Republicans managed to strengthen support for Obama among women voters. By their racist attacks on Obama, Republicans further strengthened the resolve of black voters to vote for Obama. By their hostility to ‘illegal immigrants’ and their enthusiasm for the militarisation of the Mexican border, they likewise drove the Latinos to the Obama camp – not bad considering the Obama administration’s utter failure to back the reforms desired by these groups.
Obama’s victory provoked howls of rage in the Republican camp, which accused the Democrats of electoral fraud. There were petitions for states to secede from the Union, hand in hand with death threats against Obama. Finding the thought of a second term in the White House for Obama unbearable, some committed suicide. The word ‘nigger’ made frequent appearances in twitterspace – this is a country where the word is so offensive that it is usually referred to as the N word by the mainstream media. How this bitter divide, pushed wide open by the election, will unfold is difficult to foretell, other than to say that it will have a significant bearing on political developments in the US.
With the election over, and the end of the year approaching with each passing day, the principal issue haunting US imperialism is the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’. The continuing decline of US imperialism has been ameliorated by a steady accumulation of debt. However, this mounting debt cannot be accumulated forever. This has become clear to the US ruling circles, especially since the near meltdown of Wall Street in 2007-8. The reduction of the debt, therefore, has assumed an unprecedented urgency. The ‘fiscal cliff’ represents a package of tax increases and government expenditure cuts which will automatically kick in on 1 January 2013 unless Congress can come to an alternative agreement. While falling off the ‘fiscal cliff’ will effect a reduction of $600bn in the deficit, the consequence of this huge reduction is expected to push the US economy into another deep recession, with a resultant rise in the already steep rate of unemployment. “ Absent a deal, most economists agree, we will have another recession. Absent a deal, the sense that our republic is crashing will become a global problem”, so wrote Joe Klein in the 17 September 2012 issue of Time magazine (‘Paralysis rules – the looming budget crisis raises a key question: can either candidate close on a deal?’).
US imperialism faces yet another damaging problem – the necessity to raise the debt ceiling, the Congress-sanctioned limit on the amount of money that the Federal government can borrow. Failure to lift this ceiling would prove far more catastrophic for the US economy than the plunge over the ‘fiscal cliff’, for a halt to Federal borrowing will result in even bigger and speedier cuts in Federal spending. Given the animosity between the two sides, it is difficult to foretell where they can reach a compromise on this question, as indeed on the fiscal cliff. One thing is certain, i.e., that the date when this ceiling must be raised is only weeks away. It is within the realm of possibility that the world may soon be treated to the spectacle of the ruling class refusing to compromise, thus driving US capitalism over the edge of the cliff into another deep economic crisis – with fearful consequences throughout the world.
Absence of a revolutionary movement
The real tragedy is that there is no truly working-class revolutionary movement in the US, which has the vision to struggle for the overthrow of US imperialism as a part and parcel of its struggle for emancipation. This for the following reason. At the end of the Second World War, US imperialism, which emerged as the strongest imperialist power, soon went on to establish its hegemony over the entire imperialist camp, as Britain was much weakened by the end of the war and all other imperialist powers lay prostrate. In the following 60 years of untrammelled hegemony, the US was able to extract superprofits from the rest of the world – a state of affairs which put the stamp of parasitism on the entire US society, including the working class, while a large parasitic middle class grew and became embedded in US society.
Parallel with this economic development, the very organisations established to defend the interests of the proletariat, militant CIO labour unions, were by and large co-opted by Wall Street. The Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), an influential body in the international communist movement following the Second World War, pursued the Browderite revisionist line that an alliance between US imperialism, on the one hand, and the workers, oppressed peoples and the newly-emerged socialist camp, on the other hand, could be just as productive for the long run, as had been the temporary alliance of the Soviet Union and the anti-fascist forces with US imperialism in the course of the glorious Soviet-led victory over fascism. Such a line could not but have a devastating influence on the working class organisations, for it facilitated their co-option by US imperialism. Not surprisingly, then, the leading lights of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labour & Congress of Industrial Organisations) and other unions have since then been the loyal servants of the Democratic Party and, through the latter, loyal servants of US imperialism. Until this treacherous leadership is removed, the working-class movement in the US will make no significant progress.
For more than five decades, the CPUSA has consistently championed the Democratic Party in every presidential race. And, although the CPUSA is a very much weaker and marginalised organisation these days, it continues to exercise a significant influence in reformist trade unions and other reform groups. And a meaningful alternative to this revisionist party has yet to emerge. In the meantime, the CPUSA continues to propagate support for the Democratic Party as the lesser of two evils. Like revisionists everywhere, the CPUSA separates imperialist policies from imperialist economies to be able to exaggerate the role of the ‘far right’ and to underestimate the inevitable imperialist drive to war and fascism, to violence, domination and reaction all along the line, both in the domestic and external sphere, under the leadership of the Republicans and Democrats alike.
After the bitter experience of the 4 years of the Obama presidency – years of repression at home and predatory wars abroad – the international working class and the oppressed peoples beyond the frontiers of the US have by and large rid themselves of the petty-bourgeois illusions about the ‘black’ president and the myth of US democracy. It is only to be hoped that the working class of the US, in particular the African-American and Latino sections of the population, will likewise rid themselves of their petty-bourgeois illusions in ‘US democracy’ and the aura that surrounds the persona of the first black US president.
The only way out is that the international proletariat and the oppressed peoples of the world wage a resolute and ruthless struggle against imperialism, headed by US imperialism, for national liberation, socialism and communism.
In this regard, one can do far worse than listen to the sane advice of Larry Hamm, an outstanding Afro-American community leader and head of New Jersey’s much-respected People’s Organisation for Progress (POP). Speaking to an overwhelmingly Afro-American banquet gathering in North Carolina in the spring of 2012, as the POP was in the thick of its eventually successful 381 straight days of street protests, Hamm took the following approach to the then-impending presidential election:
“ I know y’all and I know what you’re going to do on election day. And I may vote for him, too. But we need to face the fact that we’ve allowed Obama to cause much more damage to us than we ever would have let Bush do. What I’m concerned about is not what you do on Election Day. The most important day of the 2012 Presidential election season will be the day after the election. We’ll need to be out there fighting for decent jobs and homes, quality health care for all, saving our unions, a clean environment, ending the Wall Street wars at home and abroad, bringing the war dollars home, protecting and improving Social Security and Medicare, democratic rights including Afro-American and immigrant rights and developing a more vigorous fight for workers power .”
Let the working class in the US and elsewhere, let the oppressed peoples of the world, take their cue from these words of Larry Hamm and intensify with renewed vigour the struggle against US imperialism – against exploitation of one human being by another and one nation by another.